Saturday, 28 February 2015

Dartford parkrun 32 - buggy running

Runners from a range of abilities descended upon Dartford’s Central Park this morning for the thirty-second running of the ‘always one word, always lower case’ international phenomenon that is parkrun. The free, timed, 5 kilometre event kicked off at 9am and the one-hundred-and-twenty-four runners hurtled off around the two-lap, mixed terrain course.

Those new to the parkrun movement may initially refer to it as a race, but in fact parkrun is not a race. It is simply a timed run and is probably best described as ‘a run around the park with your mates’. Although timed, there is no pressure to run at a hard (time trial) pace. Quite often runners will run with friends or family at a sociable pace and enjoy the experience together.

buggy runners [photo: brian page]

The event is inclusive and open to runners of all abilities as well as those running with dogs (for safety reasons parkrun dog policy states only one dog per person) and buggy runners. Today saw Steven Stockwell, who was running his 189th parkrun (30th at Dartford), tackle the mixed terrain course with his daughter in their running buggy in 22 minutes and 46 seconds.

Steven said of his run ‘the start is always tricky with the buggy; I have to make the decision between starting at the back as per parkrun buggy running guidance but then passing the majority of the field or starting near the front and getting into our natural position from the very beginning.’ He went on to add ‘the muddy corner and slippery incline were both very challenging with the buggy, especially on the second lap where we got stuck in the mud. But we dug deep and got to the top without stopping both times around’.

the view from stones corner across to our lovely off-road, muddy corner [photo: dani]

After the run, a member of local running club SLGR, commented ‘I woke up this morning, did a 3 kilometre run with my dog and then headed over to Central Park to meet my running buddies. I also sometimes wear my personalised running top back-to-front to let the person behind know my name'. The event utilises facilities in the adjacent Dartford Harriers Athletics Club and after the run many of the runners and volunteers relax with a beverage and a snack in the clubhouse.

Dartford parkrun is organised primarily by Event Director Richey Estcourt along with a small core team of volunteers who perform a few key roles throughout the week and on the morning itself. However, every week a full set of around 15 volunteers are required in order to successfully stage the event – the rest of these positions are filled by volunteers from the wider Dartford parkrun community.

buggy runners in full flight at stones corner [photo: dani]

One of these volunteers, who was taking a rest day in advance of a race the following day, told our reporter ‘I usually run, but when I have a race on the following day I like to volunteer instead; that way I can still be part of our community and save my legs for the next day’s race.’ Another volunteer added 'I love volunteering, I just let the event team know when I am available and which role I fancy doing, and they add me to the volunteer roster for that week - it's brilliant!'

The results are compiled through a simple yet effective solution which requires each runner to register with parkrun in advance. Each registered runner is issued with a unique personal barcode which they must bring with them every time they run at a parkrun event. It can be used at any parkrun event worldwide and the results are all recorded on each runner's own results page.

at least one of us looked good for the camera [photo: brian page]

When the runners reach the end of the course they enter the finishing funnel where they have their time registered. They then collect a finishing position token which is scanned along with the runner's own personal barcode. The stopwatch time and the corresponding finishing position token / runner's name are matched up using computer software once the run has finished and the results are usually available to view within an hour or two.

The final word from Dartford parkrun event 32 goes to nine-time-junior-parkrunner and twenty-six time volunteer Matilda Stockwell who was the passenger in the aforementioned running buggy, 'I kept telling Daddy to run faster and to catch the people in front. It was fun!'

If the video which should be above does not display, it can be viewed directly on my youtube page via this link - Dartford parkrun 32 - stones corner

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Dartford parkrun 31 - while the cats were away

I was stood in Dartford's Central Park at 7.30am staring into the metal storage container which houses the parkrun kit throughout the week. It was raining lightly and I proceeded to remove the bits and pieces required for setting up the course. Five minutes later I was popping the finish funnel stanchions into the ground when the light rain turned into sleet.

I was soon joined by Adam who was taking on the run director role for the second consecutive week. He had all of the electronic gizmos in his backpack and the freshly washed hi-vis vests in their yellow drawstring bag. Together we headed off around the course to get the course marked out. There was no need to inspect the grass and trail section because the decision had already been made to use the B course.

the b course

Not only were we using the B course, but it was pacers day AND we had given Richey (ED) and Tessa (results maestro) the day off - they headed over to the brand new Hockley Woods parkrun which, if I may use a quote, is "nuts. Proper cross-country job, and some pretty choppy hills. Deffo not a pb course, but very enjoyable. And muddy." So definitely one to visit in the near future!

Back to Dp31 and the course was set up, the volunteers and runners had started to arrive and Adam was in full flow sorting everything out. I turned my attention to my next job of the day which was pacing. I had selected the 22 minute pacer role because, well, I fancied it more than any other. I had a practice at it at event 30 and did pretty well, but that was on the A course which I am without doubt much more familiar with.

the team of pacers [photo: gary bignell]

We had five pacers in total and in order to add an extra layer of interest I offered to buy the others a drink in the clubhouse if they managed to get within 1% of their target time - for me that worked out at a 13 second window either side of my 22 minute target time. It's not an easy thing to do but they were all game for the challenge.

Adam introduced the pacers and gave the rest of the briefing at the normal spot and we then made our across to the B course start point. We headed off. Getting the 22 minute pacing fairly accurate was my main concern and I was supposed to hit the 1 kilometre point at 4.24 - as I passed it my watch said 4.12, which would have been spot on if I had been pacing 21 minutes.

and they're off.. [photo: gary bignell]

I eased off the gas and by the time I reached 2 kilometres the clock said 8.47 which was just 1 second in front of my target for this point. However, I was naturally moving a little faster than intended around the course and kept hitting the splits ahead of schedule.

One surprise was just how slippery the tiny piece of mud at Mick Jagger's corner was and I imagine the fact that I had gone for road shoes didn't help either. Still they were the right shoe for this course which is predominantly tarmac paths.

coming through the finish area on one of the laps [photo: gary bignell]

I reached the 4 kilometre point a shocking 20 seconds ahead of schedule and never really managed to stage much of a recovery, so when I reached the finish line 17 seconds ahead of schedule I wasn't surprised but I was disappointed that I had not managed to come in within my 13 second (1%) tolerance window.

My next job of the day was to do some barcode scanning, so I grabbed my scanner and joined scanning debutant Gary. The light and temperatures were playing havoc with the devices and we both had issues with getting the barcodes to scan. Thankfully, pretty much all of the barcode went through and as my attention was about to turn to the retrieval of the signs, Terry announced that he was off to bring back whatever was still out there.

results uploaded and sitting in the queue [photo: 7t]

So with that in good hands I was able to mill around, chat and generally soak up the post-run atmosphere. At that point, I only had confirmation that one of the pacers had managed to finish within 1% of their target time so once we got inside the clubhouse I bought Paul the 25 minute pacer his tea and we all got settled in our favourite corner while Adam and Lynne got onto the results processing. I later found out that Dawn the 30 minute pacer had also done very well, so she'll get her free drink next weekend!

With that all done our post-run analysis was that everything had gone as smoothly as it possibly could have and we strolled away knowing that we had played a small part in making that week's event possible. We will however be delighted to see Richey and Tessa back next week!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Dartford parkrun 30 - worms and sweethearts

At every Dartford parkrun to date I have arrived at the crack of dawn and gone around setting up the course with either Richey, Adam, Anoushka OR a combination of all of them. This week I was given the morning off and I was free to have a lie-in and just rock up at 8.55am to run.


good morning [photo:7t]

I woke up at 6am, tried to stay in bed but eventually just got up, got ready and headed over to the park. I arrived about 5 minutes later than usual. Then I got momentarily distracted by a park resident (the worm). I knew that Richey and Adam were not going to be expecting me so I came prepared with my speech about why I had still turned up early.

It went something like this: 'Guys, I came over early because the pre-parkrun Saturday morning course setup is one of my favourite times of the week and I just wanted to spend a quiet hour or so chatting to my mates while we walk around our local park in the rain*'

the start-finish from a different angle [photo:7t]

So after that I headed off with Adam to set up the course and as it had been raining heavily over the past 24 hours, we had to check the condition of our soggy corner and muddy uphill trail section. Richey remained at parkrun hq to sort out the start-finish area.

The uphill trail section was wetter than usual with a bit of running water heading down towards the soggy corner which was, erm... soggy - but still runnable. So the decision was made to stick with the A course. The rain remained light for a while and then stopped completely.

the top of the trail [photo:7t]

The run started, I decided not to hammer it and just run a nice steady pace. I thought it'd be a good opportunity to practice the pace for a 22 minute 5k time as practice for the following week's pacers day. I managed 22.07, which wasn't too shabby.

The uphill trail was at its toughest since we started the event, but somehow I still managed to negotiate it fairly well. Unlike the runner in front of me who was a good 30 metres in front of me as she reached the bottom second time around - when we emerged at the top we were side-by-side. Showing just how tough that little section can be for some at the moment - I have a feeling the B course might be called into action again soon.

out on the course [photo: gary bignell]

Once the run was over I grabbed the barcode scanner and after a quick chat to an uber-tourist from West-London, I got onto scanning (which of course included more chatting). It was Valentines Day and although we didn't do anything themed for the event, Richey was roving around handing out chocolates to runners as they finished.

Before we knew it the last of the runners were coming in and it was time for me to think about sign retrieval. Looking around me I could see that most had already been brought back, but we do have a few signs out there that the runners never see and quite often end up forgotten. So I headed off for a quick loop to grab any that remained. For the record there was only one that had been missed.

post run chatti..... I mean scanning [photo: gary bignell]

So all that was left to do was to pack it all away, upload the results, have some tea and chat some more.

Which is what happened.

* the rain is optional, but was a feature this week.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Dartford parkrun 29 - ghost car

The three central Dartford running clubs have each agreed to host their own 'takeover days' at Dartford parkrun. This means they will run the entire* event and supply all of the day's volunteers. The days are a great opportunity to showcase what each of the clubs has to offer - all three are very different.

The first of these takeover days took place at event 29 and the club in question was my first claim club 'So Let's Go Running' (SLGR). SLGR is the newest of the town's clubs and gives runners the option of running with them as a run england group or to take that extra step and become fully affiliated. It is very well suited to beginners or those returning to running who are looking for a friendly and inclusive group of mixed abilities to run with.

raising the flag [photo: tony miller]

With myself, Richey and Adam all being SLGR runners, the day started in exactly the same way as any other Saturday. One slight difference was that instead of all three of us setting up the course, this week Richey stayed at DpHQ in order to get the start-finish area suitably decorated in a black and orange theme and to distribute his motivational signs to the marshals! As we made our way around the course the early morning frost disappeared and the ever-so-slightly icy patches in the puddles melted - everything was good to go.

A few weeks earlier at event 26 I took on the role of pacer for the first time and made the mistake of relying on my Garmin GPS running watch to accurately pace me around the course. Even when it felt a little too fast I stuck firm trusting the pace and splits that were reported. I eventually finished 32 seconds ahead of my 20 minute target time.

a very black and orange pre run briefing [photo: dani]

The lesson here is that using latest technology is not always the best way to pace. So instead of using this method again, this time around I had decided to run it by feel and to provide some reassurance to me I decided to wear my simple stopwatch and cross-check it as I passed through each kilometre point around the course. To give me the opportunity for further reassurance I also made some notes on the 500 metre points between each kilometre just in case.

I had (am?) been suffering with a bit of a dodgy knee and at 8.30am I was convinced that I was going to give the run a miss. However, I had really been looking forward to pacing again and as the runners started to gather near the start line I took the plunge and decided to run. I opted for the role of 25 minute pacer. In the end there were four of us on pacing duties - at 24, 25, 27 and 30 minutes.

that looks like the face of someone who is happy to be running [photo: brian page]

Pacing at 25 minutes let me run at a nice, easy pace and came with the advantage that the kilometre splits are very easy to remember (5 minutes per kilometre pace). Another reason for wanting to pace right in the middle of the pack rather than at the front is that there are so many more opportunities to actually help other runners with their pacing or to perhaps give them a visual marker/target to help them to run new personal bests.

After the run briefing we were sent on our way and for the first time in my Dartford parkrun history I didn't go tearing off with the front-runners. It was actually really nice to hold back and run as part of the pack. I was a little worried during the opening section as I found myself running behind the 27 minute pacer, Dawn. Plus the 24 minute pacer, Adam, was nowhere in sight!

limette viking with her motivational sign [photo: richey estcourt]

However it felt right so I stuck with the pace I was moving at. I moved past Dawn so we were in the correct order and hit the 500 metre point just a couple of seconds ahead of my target pace. The next few 500 metre splits all remained just a few seconds ahead of pace. By the time I reached the halfway point I was about 7 seconds ahead of target even pace (12.23).

In order to get around the course in 25 minutes at an 'even effort' I took into account that there is a slight loss of time when the dirt incline is tackled on the second lap. This is why I was keen to be a tiny bit ahead of an even pace at this stage. Once the incline had been taken care of I brought my pacees through the 3.5 kilometre point bang on target time (17.30).

bringing it home with almost perfect pacing [photo: brian page]

All that was left was to hold the same pace as we progressed through the last 1.5 kilometres. The 4 kilometre point was reached and I was within a second or two of the target split time. This remained the same at 4.5 kilometres. I crossed the finish line in a time of 25.04. It works out that on average I managed to run within 1 second per kilometre (0.27%) of my target time so I can't really complain at those odd few seconds.

It looks like I may have helped one or two people to a new personal best, but it's hard to know for sure as the conditions turned out to be so good that they may have run a new best anyway! Once the results had been processed I saw that a total of 53 runners (out of 117) ran new pbs. Also running at this event was John Leonard - he has also completed the #7weeksofparkrun challenge (and then extended it into #iloveparkrun) and he was here to collect his D as part of the #parkrunalphabet challenge so it was quite special to have us both running at the same event on the same day.

me with john and limette viking [photo: brian page]

After the run I went around the course with Adam to pick up any course signs that hadn't already been gathered and then we all had tea in the Dartford Harriers clubhouse. It was a pretty perfect Saturday morning if you ask me.

*ad-hoc support may be given by the core team (access to kit storage and results processing)

Related: My full course description (updated to include a new feature at the train station)

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